This story is a partial of Faces of Fracking: Stories From a Front Lines of Fracking in California. Click here for a full series.
Ed Ruszel’s workday is a soundtrack of whirling, banging, screeching — a percussion of timber being cut, sanded, and finished. He’s a trickery manager for a family business, Ruszel Woodworks. But one sound any day roars above a cacophony of a woodshop: a blast of a sight horn as cars cough down a Union Pacific rail line that runs customarily a few feet from a front of his emporium in an industrial park in Benicia, Calif.
Most days a sight load is beer, cars, steel, propane, or petroleum coke. But shortly dual trains of 50 cars any might pass by any day carrying wanton oil to a refinery owned by adjacent Valero Energy. Valero is anticipating to build a new rail depot during a refinery that would pierce 70,000 barrels a day by sight — or scarcely 3 million gallons.
And it’s a pointer of a times.
Crude by rail has increasing 4,000 percent opposite a nation given 2008 and California is feeling a effects. By 2016 a volume of wanton by rail entering a state is approaching to boost by a means of 25. That’s presumption courtesy gets a approach in formulating some-more wanton by rail stations during refineries and oil terminals. And that’s no longer looking like a certain thing.
Valero’s due devise in Benicia is customarily one of many in a area underway or underneath consideration. All a projects are now confronting open pushback — and not customarily from people in communities, yet from a assimilated front travelling hundreds of miles. Benicia sits on a Carquinez Strait, a badge of H2O fasten a San Pablo and Suisun Bays in a northeastern reaches of a San Francisco Bay Area. Here, about 20 miles south of Napa’s booze nation and 40 miles north of San Francisco, a oil courtesy might have found a substantial foe.
The embankment of oil
The heart of California’s oil courtesy is a Central Valley — 22,500 retard miles that also doubles as a state’s many prolific farmland. Oil that’s constructed here is delivered to California refineries around pipeline. For decades California and Alaska wanton were a categorical suppliers for a state’s refineries. Crude came by tube or by boat. Over a final 20 years imports from places like Saudi Arabia, Ecuador, and Iraq have outpaced domestic production. But a new bang in “unconventional fuels” has triggered an boost in North American sources in a final few years. This has meant some-more fracked wanton from North Dakota’s Bakken shale and diluted bitumen from Alberta’s connect sands.
Unit trains are apropos a adored approach to assistance pierce this cargo. These are trains in that a whole load — any singular automobile — is one product. And in this box that product happens to be rarely flammable.
This is one of a things that has Ruszel concerned. He doesn’t consider a tank cars are protected adequate to ride wanton oil (or ethanol, that is also flitting by his neighborhood) in a appearance of a vicious derailment.
But he’s also endangered not customarily with a kind of cargo, yet a perfect volume of it. If a derailment occurs on a sight and any singular automobile (up to 100 cars long) is carrying flighty crude, a dangers boost exponentially. The some-more trains on a tracks, a some-more expected something could go wrong. In 2013, some-more wanton was spilled in sight derailments than in a before 3 decades combined, and there were 4 blazing explosions in North America in a year’s span.
This risk Marilaine Savard knows well. we met her in Feb of 2014 when she visited a Bay Area to tell residents about what happened in her city of Lac Megantic, Quebec. The closest word to news a knowledge was “apocalypse,” she said, by tears.
Most people by now know of a train derailment that killed 47 people and incinerated half of Lac Megantic’s downtown in a diminutive hours of a morning on Jul 7, 2013. The glow was so prohibited a city burnt for 36 hours. Even a lake burned.
We now have tenure for this: bomb train.
Just dual days before a disaster in Lac Megantic, Ruszel assimilated a village assembly in Benicia about a Valero project. For many residents, it was a initial they were training of it, yet Ruszel had famous months before.
In Jan 2013 a sight carrying petroleum coke withdrawal Valero’s refinery derailed. It was teenager — no load spilled — yet it did slice adult a square of track, and a stalled sight blocked a drive to Ruszel Woodworks for hours. It was one of 3 teenager derailments in a industrial park in a camber of 10 months.
Ruszel came outward to see what a problem was. “The Valero people told me ‘get used to it, given we’re unequivocally going to be bringing in a lot of cars soon,’” Ruszel says. “At that indicate we unequivocally started profitable courtesy and we got unequivocally scared.” Ruszel soon schooled about skeleton for Valero’s new terminal, a 100 sight cars that would pass by his business any day, and that it seemed a city was prepared to rubber stamp a devise — no Environmental Impact Report required.
To explain one of a reasons for his concern, Ruszel shows me around his skill where a lands comes to a V and dual rails lines intersect. The categorical line of Union Pacific’s lane passes along a behind of Ruszel’s property, about 75 feet from his building. Here trains can get off a categorical line and switch to a internal line that runs inside a industrial park. The internal lane passes by a front of Ruszels property, about 20 feet from a building.
The marks into a industrial park were not designed for a wanton by rail facility, Ruszel says. There are no loops. For Valero to get wanton tanks into a refinery, a sight contingency pass by a behind of Ruszel’s skill on a categorical line, lift all a approach brazen (usually about a mile), and afterwards behind adult onto a internal line, past a front of Ruszel’s skill and into a refinery. The routine is topsy-turvy when a sight leaves. The 100 sight cars a day that Valero hopes to pierce in will come by his business adult to 4 times per day.
That’s a regard not customarily given of intensity dangers from derailments and diesel smoke from watchful trains, yet also given a industrial park has a rail trade problem.
“My vast regard here is privately with a rails — we comprehend there are other outrageous environmental issues and tellurian issues with a kinds of hoary fuel prolongation we’re trade with now and where it’s going,” Ruszel says.
Already trains servicing a Valero refinery and other courtesy neighbors can means trade nightmares. The trains retard driveways to businesses and infrequently vital roadways. An off ramp from Interstate 680 empties into a industrial park. Ruszel has photos of cars perplexing to exit a highway yet are corroborated adult on a widespread given of sight traffic.
The reason has to do with a area’s history.
The marks that come by a industrial park were not built for industry, yet for a U.S. Army.
From 1851 to 1964, partial of a land now claimed as an industrial park was home to a Benicia Arsenal. Bunker doors in a hillsides and buildings from a 1800s are partial of a area’s colorful history. The rail lines changed around infantry and armaments from a Civil War by a Korean War, Ruszel says, yet it’s unsuitable to servicing a bustling blurb rail terminal.
The open comments
Ruszel’s family changed their woodworking business to a industrial park in 1980. His hermit Jack and their father started a association when Jack was still in high school, and it’s grown to over 20 employees. They’ve always played good with a other businesses, including a refinery, that was built in 1968 and bought by Valero in 2000.
But a Ruszels felt a wanton by rail emanate demanded they take a stand. While not aligned with any internal romantic groups, Ruszel and other members of his family have oral publicly about their concerns.
“In some ways, removing outspoken we feel like we’re adhering a neck out,” Ruszel says. “There are 4 generations of my family here in Benicia — I’ve got my 80 year-old mother, small small grandnieces and nephews, and they all have to live with it. But it is vicious enough.”
Their voices are partial of a flourishing carol in a area.
On May 31, 2013, a City of Benicia expelled a Mitigated Negative Declaration, that means an initial examine by a city resolved there were no poignant environmental problems with a devise that couldn’t be mitigated.
But many residents felt differently and commented on a initial examine or uttered concerns during a Jul 9 city formulation dialect meeting, that occurred customarily dual days after a disaster in Lac Megantic gathering home a existence of a inauspicious accident.
By Aug a city sided with endangered residents and motionless that a draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) indispensable to be prepared to serve examination a project. An outward consultant was hired for a pursuit yet paid for by Valero. After most delay, a DEIR was expelled in Jun 2014 and soon slammed by everybody from a state’s Attorney General Kamala Harris to a internal organisation Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community given it left out essential information and unsuccessful to residence a full range of a project.
Even the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, that represents 22 cities in 6 counties that are “uprail” from a project, weighed in. It remarkable a breeze EIR doesn’t offer any recommendations for reserve measures given it concludes there is no “significant hazard.”
“We trust that finish is essentially flawed, disregards a new events demonstrating a unequivocally vicious risk to life and skill that these shipments pose, and contradicts a conclusions of a sovereign government, that is mobilizing to respond to these risks,” a criticism states. It even quotes a U.S. Department of Transportation news from May 2014 that says that Bakken wanton by rail shipments poise an “imminent hazard.”
One of a biggest omissions in Valero’s DEIR was Union Pacific not being named as an central partner in a project. With a trains nearing around a rail lines, all logistics will come down to a railroad. Not customarily that, yet a sovereign energy postulated to tyrannise companies preempts internal and informal authority.
This preemption is one of a biggest hurdles for communities that don’t wish to see wanton by rail come by their neighborhoods or wish improved safeguards. An Oct 2014 editorial in a San Francisco Chronicle lamented, “What’s unequivocally crazy is a sovereign law that allows preemption of metropolitan and state law when it comes to vicious decisions on rail safety. Affected communities merit a contend over what rolls by their towns.” With preemption, that might be impossible.
The DEIR also doesn’t brand accurately what kind of North American crudes would be nearing and from where, deeming it “confidential business information.” Attorney General Kamala Harris called that repudiation an “overly extended integrity of trade secrets.”
Different kinds of wanton have opposite health and reserve risks. A pipeline rupture carrying Canadian diluted bitumen in a run of a Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010 showed that a thick, erosive wanton is most harder (perhaps impossible) to purify adult sufficient and is opposite than required crude, that sheens on a aspect of water. And Bakken wanton has valid some-more bomb than other crudes given of a chemical composition. It’s expected that some of a wanton entrance to Valero’s refinery would be from possibly or both sources.
Consider a numbers: In 2013 a sum wanton by rail brought into California was scarcely 6.3 million barrels, and in a initial 9 months of 2014, a numbers were 4.3 million barrels. The tip dual sources have been North Dakota and Canada.
Further, a DEIR customarily examines a risks of a teenager derailment along a 69-miles widen of lane between Benicia and Roseville. It doesn’t residence a hazards (which could be catastrophic) of a 3 intensity routes that a Union Pacific trains might take entering California, that engage flitting over mountains, by tinderbox-dry forests, and along vicious H2O sources.
Just a week ago a train derailed along one such lane in a Feather River Canyon. Eleven cars plunged off a lane and down a canyon. Had a load been wanton instead of corn, a decay could have done a approach down a Feather River to Lake Oroville, a fountainhead for millions of Californians.
Public comments on a DEIR sealed on Sept. 15, and now it’s a watchful diversion to see what happens subsequent in Benicia. The formulation elect will opinion on either to accept or repudiate a assent for a project. If a elect denies a permit, Valero can interest to a city council. Either way, it’s expected to finish adult in court.
Ruszel spends his weekdays on land in Benicia and his weekends on a water, sailing out of circuitously Richmond. He has fluffy brownish-red hair, a orderly embellished salt and peppers goatee, and looks any bit a weathered soldier that he is.
Having worked professionally as a vessel captain and even as a solo soldier to Hawaii, Ruszel is a bit overqualified for a scarcely windless tumble Sunday we set cruise with internal romantic Marilyn Bardet, a member of Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community.
Marilyn has been a refinery watchdog in Benicia for years and worries about some-more than customarily a travel of hoary fuels. “For me it’s not customarily about either they were going to pierce it by rail, yet either they were going to pierce it during all,” she says.
Sailing from Richmond, we get a good viewpoint of how pervasive a oil courtesy is in this area. We pass a integrate of blue and white docked ships with their decals reading “Marine Spill Response.” Ever given a Exxon Valdez brief in Alaska, Ruszel explains, a courtesy pays into a account that keeps ships during a prepared in box of an accident.
No such thing exists for a wanton by rail industry. In fact, a National Transportation Safety Board reported in Jan 2014, “Current regulations do not need railroads transporting wanton oil in mixed tank cars to rise extensive brief response skeleton and have resources on standby for response to worst-case discharges.”
Ruszel points a crawl of a vessel toward a Long Wharf in Point Richmond where bumbling oil tankers sidle adult to be unburdened of their cargo.
We also have a transparent perspective of a vast terra cotta-colored storage tanks nesting above neighborhoods in a hillsides of Richmond. These are partial of a sprawling refinery operations run by Chevron, yet initial begun by Standard Oil in 1901.
And it’s not a customarily refinery around here. In a North Bay, there are 5 along a 20-mile crescent, with Richmond and Benicia being a bookends. In between, Phillips 66 operates a refinery in Rodeo, and dual other refineries (Shell and Tesoro) hover Martinez.
Residents of these towns have assimilated in a crude-by-rail fights as good — lending their comments to Environmental Impact Reports, attending village meetings, and fasten together for “healing walks” between communities.
The network of support has even extended hundreds of miles south. The Phillips 66 refinery has dual tools — one in Rodeo and a other 200 miles away, customarily outward a city of Nipomo in San Luis Obispo County. A tube joins a operations. The refinery has enlargement skeleton that are now being reviewed. One partial of those skeleton involves building a new rail unloading facility in Nipomo that would pierce in 5 section trains of wanton a week, with 50,000 barrels per train.
But a crude-by-rail projects in a area don’t finish there. In circuitously Pittsburgh, 20 miles easterly of Benicia, residents pushed behind opposite skeleton from WestPac Energy. The association had designed to franchise land from BNSF Railway and build a new depot to pierce in a 100-car section sight any day of crude. But WestPac’s devise has stalled after Attorney General Kamala Harris commented on a recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report and pronounced a devise had “significant authorised problems” and “fails to divulge a sources and investigate a environmental impacts of a new crude.”
Further south in Kern County in a heart of oil country, Plains All American customarily non-stop a crude-by-rail depot that is available for a 100-car section sight any day. Another circuitously project, Alon USA, perceived accede from a county for twice as most yet is being challenged by lawsuits from environmental groups.
Closer to home, though, section trains are already arriving. In March, an examination by internal TV hire KPIX revealed that Kinder Morgan, a “midstream” association that is in a business of transporting wanton (usually by tube or rail), perceived a change of use assent for a rail depot in Richmond. Kinder Morgan had been transporting ethanol, yet a Bay Area Air Quality Management District OK’d Kinder Morgan to offload section trains of Bakken wanton into tanker trucks. KPIX reporters followed a trucks to a Tesoro refinery in Martinez, customarily opposite a Carquinez Strait from Benicia.
Aimee Durfee is partial of a Martinez Environmental Group. Not customarily is Martinez flanked by dual refineries, yet it’s also bisected by Union Pacific rail lines. Now, a residents also know that wanton is nearing by truck. “We came to know that we are material damage,” she said. “We get it entrance and going.”
Aimee says her group’s biggest fear is a hazard of derailment and explosion. The same is loyal for many Richmond residents nearby Kinder Morgan’s rail terminal.
“The assent was given illegally by a atmosphere district, though regard for a health and reserve of a community,” says Andres Soto, an organizer with Communities for a Better Environment. “Should there be a inauspicious blast — there are residences and dual facile schools opposite a travel from a railyard.” He also says that a blast zone in Richmond contains a sum of 27 schools. The blast section is tangible as a half mile divided for evacuations if there is a derailment and one mile divided if there is an blast and fire.
Earthjustice, a nonprofit that litigates on interest of environmental causes, has led authorised efforts perplexing to retard a assent for Kinder Morgan, yet in September, Judge James Bush threw out a fit given it was not filed within 180 days of a assent issuance. (The catch-22 of march being that it hadn’t been filed in a correct window of time given no one knew it had even happened, given open notice was not given.)
Earthjustice has appealed Judge Bush’s decision, yet residents are stability to quarrel a assent in other ways. On Oct. 28, a Richmond City Council unanimously upheld a fortitude job on a Bay Area Air Quality Management District to examination and “if feasible, devaluate a assent and theme a devise to a finish CEQA process,” that would be a full environmental review.
The vast picture
With all this wanton by rail activity, some vast design meditative would be helpful. As Attorney General Kamala Harris wrote about a Benicia project, “There’s no care of accumulative impacts that could impact open reserve and a sourroundings by a proliferation of crude-by-rail projects due in California.”
Ruszel has come to a identical understanding. He is focused on a trains flitting by his shop, yet a routine has non-stop his eyes to a lot more. He’d listened about a impacts of connect sands and Bakken wanton yet didn’t have a personal tie to it until section trains began nearing in California.
“Just focusing on what’s function in my small neck of a woods has led me to spend more time unequivocally looking during a vast picture,” he said. “The meridian is fast changing for one reason or another and substantially a good apportionment of it is what we’re doing with a blazing of hoary fuels and so forth, generally this fast extraction.
“I can’t go to New York and denote or understanding with a Keystone XL pipeline, yet we can demeanour around here, keep a eyes open, and try to clear what we’re saying locally,” says Ruszel.